The world has misplaced its confidence.  There’s a heady mix of of fear and guilt in the air.  The financial markets, unsure which way to turn, have gone safe and south.  A new generation of political leadership is pointing fingers rather than pointing the way.

The Eurozone economy is terribly unwell, while the leaders of the free world in Washington can’t agree on how to go about reducing the US’ bills.   Shopkeepers are looking to their end of year takings more in trepidation than expectation and people – from Egypt’s Tahrir Square to London’s Paternoster Square – are taking to the streets.

We’ve lost faith in the institutions of government, the banks, big business and the tabloid press.  Even the church is being challenged by sections of its congregation. It’s like everyone’s waiting for the end of the world rather than Christmas, which is only five weeks away. Even winter is refusing to make a proper appearance.

The best PR team imaginable would be powerless against the prevailing melancholy.  What’s going on?

The world lost its balance over the last two decades.  Selfishness and consumerism became global epidemics.  We parked bigger cars outside larger houses.  We began to covet those lifestyles we caught a glimpse of on our bigger screen TVs and went on a debt-fuelled rampage only to learn that the bill reduces more slowly than the value of the goods it financed.   2011 is the equivalent of a very long January after the Christmas credit card bill has arrived.  The foreboding will last well into the New Year.

Some say the world will never be the same again.  It’s less dramatic, but I think the world is enjoying a deep detox, a periodic necessity to cleanse the organs and purify the soul.  The process of detoxing can cause headaches and toxins smell a bit as they leave the body.  That’s the price of the excess enjoyed earlier.

It was the same in the late 1980s after Margaret Thatcher gave us permission to lose our heads. While self-medicating to ease the headache, we swore we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. But like the drunk when the hangover has eased, as soon as the credit card balance eases, off we went again.

Like the pain of childbirth, the memory of recession fades quickly.  As surely as day follows night, we’ll do exactly the same again. It might take a little longer to reach full volume this time, but normal service will resume and it continue until a further detox is called for, which I suspect will be around 2025.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono